When psychiatrists come across an individual with “a severe brain disorder in which the person interprets reality abnormally,” and “may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior,” they will diagnose that person as a schizophrenic. Usually, that same doctor will prescribe some form of psychotropic medication to help alleviate the symptoms (definition taken from the Mayo Clinic website).
When I meet somebody that deals with those symptoms, I am usually listening to them tell me about their latest novel or short story.
We writers are a strange breed.
We live in make believe worlds, talk to imaginary people, and have a curious obsession with coffee. We bore our friends and family with incessant talk about people who do not even exist, and often become emotionally attached to those same imaginary people. We hurt when they hurt, we cry when they cry, we rejoice when they rejoice, and we become depressed when they are depressed.
In my ten-plus years of professional writing, I have yet to meet another writer who does not meet the criteria given by the Mayo Clinic for schizophrenia, and we all tend to have our own quirks about us that all point to this same diagnosis. It is for this reason that I decided to discuss some of the strangest things about us, showing why we should all see a doctor who will likely prescribe us a healthy dose of Haldol.
Interpreting Reality Abnormally
Have you ever been regaling a friend, family member, or colleague with the plot of your latest work in progress and been unable to shut up about it? They have told you millions of times already that they don’t read, or that they don’t like the genre you are writing in, but you just can’t stop talking? We know intellectually that they hate reading anything more than their Facebook feeds, but we tell ourselves that our book is going to change that. That is the very definition of “interpreting reality abnormally.”
Additionally, we all are slightly disorganized in one way or another. I mean, I’m looking at my desk right now, and I see half-scribbled notes, coffee stains, a plate that held a snack two days ago (I forgot to eat lunch that day), and a green folder where book ideas go to die. Sure, I tell myself that I’ll get around to novel about a man who collects Tonka trucks and restores them sometime soon, but in reality, I’ll probably just throw it in the trash with the last fifty story idea sheets I’ve created in the last two months (I recently went through them all). Sure, I know in my head that it’s a mess, but my heart sees a glorious workspace, where the next New York Times bestseller will be created.
We see people, places, and things that aren’t there, and we hear voices in our heads…and we record the conversations! When you consider that the definition of “hallucination” is “an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present,” it is clear that we writers hallucinate…a lot.
After all, how can we describe something that’s not real? We are able to use a pen (or computer!) to describe the specific shade of chartreuse that a non-existent person’s dress is. We can describe in excruciating detail the way a futuristic ruin looks. We are able to defy the laws of logic with the simple stroke of a key, giving a plausible explanation for why Timmy started flying! We know that those conversations are never taking place, at any time, ever, but we record them anyway.
Sure, we call it “world building” or “creating dialogue,” but psychiatrists call those episodes “hallucinations.”
A wise man once said that if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.
Well, as one popular writer’s meme says, “give someone a book, and they’ll read for a day. Teach someone to write a book…and they’ll spend a life-time mired in paralyzing self-doubt.”
What else would you call this besides a delusion? One common theme among all writers that I know is crippling doubt. The critic that lives within us is constantly telling us that we are not good enough, that our stories are rubbish, and that no-one will ever like it. The second delusion that writers suffer is thinking that our story is phenomenal, when it’s really terrible. We either think that our work is terrible or should never see the light of day, or else we think that it’s going to be the next “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games” phenomenon, when it’s really destined for obscurity on the shelf at the dollar store.
It doesn’t matter if you are a good writer or a bad writer; we all have some serious delusions about our work
How to Treat the Illness
Much like schizophrenia, writing is not a disease with a cure. There are ways to treat it and ease some of the symptoms, but if you have it, you’ll never get rid of it.
I myself tell folks that I’ve been a writer for 26 years…quite the feat when you consider that I will be 27 in December of this year. The fact is, we writers are born, not made. We either have an innate, instinctual desire to tell stories, or we don’t.
And if we don’t, we’d be better suited to work at IKEA than to write a novel.
The only way to treat the symptoms that come with being a writer is to do the one thing that we all crave to do so much: write. Tell the story, get it out there for people to see, and let them be the judge. And when you’re done, tell another story.
We are writers…therefore we are a special breed of crazy.
Josh Davis is a freelance ghostwriter, novelist, editor, blogger, and podcast host who lives in his hometown of Historic Appomattox, Virginia. He currently is set to release his first book, The Layman’s Guide to Romans, a short work of non-fiction discussing the Biblical book of Romans. Additionally, he is preparing for his first novel to be released this fall, and a work of narrative non-fiction that should be released in December of this year.
He also owns a start-up publishing company with his high-school sweetheart, Patricia, who he married almost eight years ago. For more information about his company, go to DavisPublishingCo.com
To listen to Josh’s podcast, “The Wrambling Writer’s Podcast,” visit this link.
Josh and Patricia have three children, Ivy, Nathaniel, and Christine. They live in Appomattox with their five dogs and two fish-tanks.